Israeli forces rescue 2 hostages in Gaza attack that kills at least 67 Palestinians

RAFAA, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli forces freed two hostages early Monday and entered a heavily guarded compound. Gaza Strip and delivered the captives in a dramatic attack, a small but symbolically significant victory for Israel. At least 67 Palestinians, including women and children, were killed in the operation, according to Palestinian health officials.

Heavy airstrikes were carried out in the vicinity of the apartment complex to assist rescuers Rafah, a town on the southern edge 1.4 million Palestinians fled the Gaza Strip to escape fighting elsewhere in the Israel-Hamas war.

The attack was celebrated in Israel as a victory in a slow-moving battle to free the hostages, with more than 100 still held by Hamas and other Gaza militants. year.

But in Gaza, civilians have borne a staggering toll since the outbreak of war on October 7, a move that unleashed another wartime tragedy, with scores of Palestinians killed or wounded.

More than 12,300 Palestinian minors — children and teenagers — have been killed in Israel's war against Hamas, the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Monday. That means 43% of the 28,176 Palestinians killed so far were minors. Among those killed were 8,400 women.

The ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians, singled out minors and women at the request of The Associated Press. Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas fighters.

The plight of the hostages has deeply shaken Israelis and the government has made freeing the dozens of remaining prisoners a key objective of its war, along with destroying Hamas's military and governing capabilities. But as The fight drags onNow in its fifth month, their independence remains elusive Divisions have appeared in Israel A better approach to end their ordeal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Insisting that continued military pressure would bring their freedom – a stance he reiterated on Monday – he said a deal was the only way to free them, even as other top officials opposed it.

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Israel has described Rafah as the last remaining Hamas stronghold in Gaza and signaled that its ground offensive could soon target the densely populated city. Sunday, the White House said President Joe Biden Netanyahu warned Israel against launching a military operation against Hamas in Rafah without a “credible and enforceable” plan to protect civilians.

The military identified the rescued hostages as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Luis Harr, 70, who were abducted by Hamas fighters from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in the October 7 cross-border raid that sparked the war. Netanyahu's office said they also have Argentine citizenship.

They were among about 250 people taken captive Hamas' stunning cross-border attack, an estimated 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials. In addition to the thousands killed, Israel's retaliatory air and ground offensive has displaced more than 80% of the population and caused a massive humanitarian crisis.

More than 100 hostages were freed during a week-long ceasefire in November. Israel says about 100 hostages are being held by Hamas, and Hamas is also holding the remains of 30 people killed or captured on October 7. Three hostages Wrongfully killed by the army After escaping from their captors in December.

“Only the continuation of military pressure until total victory will free all our prisoners,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

A dramatic raid

Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said special forces entered a second-floor apartment building in Rafah at 1:49 a.m. Monday, followed by airstrikes in the surrounding area a minute later. He said the hostages were being protected by armed Hamas fighters, and rescue team members saved the hostages with their bodies as heavy fighting broke out simultaneously in several locations with Hamas gunmen.

The hostages were taken to a nearby “safe area”, given a quick medical check-up and airlifted to the Sheba Medical Center in central Israel. Their condition is said to be good. They are only second and third The hostages must be rescued safely; A female soldier was rescued in November.

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The rescue, which Hagari said was based on accurate intelligence and planned for some time, was a morale booster for the Israelis, but was a small step toward freeing the remaining hostages. Very bad situation.

Har and Marman were abducted from a house in southern Israel, along with three other relatives who were released in a deal in late November. None of their family members are in Gaza, Israeli media reported.

Har's son-in-law, Idan Pegerano, who saw the released inmates at the hospital, said the two were thin and pale, but they communicated well and were aware of their surroundings. Immediately upon seeing him, Har said to him: “Today is your birthday, Mazal Tov.”

Dozens were killed in the strikes

Airstrikes backed by Israeli forces hit crowded Rafah in the middle of the night and dozens of explosions rang out around 2 a.m., spokesman Ashraf al-Qitra said. Ministry of Health At least 67 people were killed in the strikes in Hamas-run Gaza.

Al-Qitra, rescuers are still searching the ruins; An Associated Press journalist counted at least 50 bodies at the Abu Yusuf al-Najjar hospital in Rafah.

Footage circulating on social media from Rafah's Kuwaiti hospital showed dead or injured children. The footage could not be immediately verified, but was consistent with the AP report.

The doctors saw the injured lying on the hospital floor and tried to treat them. A wounded man lay on the ground with two bloody children. “Save the girl,” he screamed.

A young man was also seen carrying the body of an infant who was said to have been killed in the attacks. He said the girl, his neighbor's daughter, was born and killed during the war.

“Let Netanyahu come and see: Is this (the child) the bank of your goals?” He said. “What is she to blame?”

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Concerns about Rafa

Netanyahu has said sending ground troops to Rafah is necessary to achieve Israel's war goals. Biden has urged extreme caution before traveling to Israel. More than half of Gaza's 2.3 million people are now crowded into Rafah, where hundreds of thousands live in sprawling tent camps and overcrowded UN shelters.

Biden's comments were made in a phone call with Netanyahu late Sunday His most powerful language In a possible process.

Discussion of a possibility Armistice agreement took up most of the callA senior US administration official said that after weeks of diplomacy, the “structure” is now “pretty good” for a deal to end fighting and release hostages held by Hamas in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. .

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations, acknowledged that “there are gaps” but declined to provide details. Military pressure on Hamas in the southern city of Khan Yunis in recent weeks helped the group agree to a deal, the official said.

Netanyahu's office declined to comment on the call. Hamas's al-Aqsa TV agency quoted an unnamed Hamas official as saying that any invasion of Rafah would be “explosive.” The talks were mediated by the US, Egypt and Qatar.

Biden and Netanyahu spoke after Egypt threatened to suspend a peace treaty with Israel if two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat sent troops into Rafah. The Camp David peace accords have been a cornerstone of regional stability for more than 40 years. Egypt fears a large influx of Palestinian refugees who is not allowed to return.

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This story has been updated to correct that the number of minors killed made up 43% of Gaza's total death toll, not 47%.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem and Magdy from Cairo. Associated Press writer Colin Long in Washington contributed to this report.

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